First Man after First Corinthians 13

Though I speak with the tongues of Spielberg and Kubrick, and have not First Man, I am become as The Black Hole, or Red Planet.

And though I have the gift of Roddenberry, and understand Arrival and The Martian, so that I could span gulfs, and have not First Man, I am missing out.

First Man suffers long, and is our kind of kind; First Man envies not; First Man vaunts not itself, is not puffed up,

Does not behave itself unseemly, understandably seeks its own, is not easily provoked, and thinks no evil;

Rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices in truth;

Bears many things, believes many things, hopes many things, endures many things.

First Man never fails beyond redemption.

For we know in part, and we worship the past in part.

But if that which is perfect should come, then that which is made great again in part shall be done away.

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away many childish things.

For now we see through smart devices frantically; but then face to face: now we know in part; but then shall we know even as also we are known.

And now abides The Right Stuff, Apollo 13, Gravity, and First Man, these four; but the greatest of these is First Man.

Strangite Mormonism gets Due Attention

“God Has Made Us a Kingdom”: James Strang and the Midwest Mormons by Vickie Cleverley Speek

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Early on in my reading of Vickie Cleverly Speek’s book about Strangite Mormonism, I found myself dismayed to the point of almost tossing the book out. Given its highlights and summary structuring, the book initially came off to me as a tawdry sequel to Nauvoo Mormonism. All the rumor, scandal, esoteric rituals, and political machinating virtually designed to end in assassination—all combined to make me groan at how quickly history repeats itself.

Make no mistake, Ms. Speek’s writing led me to this disenchanting early impression. In “God Has Made Us a Kingdom”: James Strang and the Midwest Mormons, Speek treats the Strangite movement as the protagonist. The movement’s head, James Strang, while central is not the book’s focus. We see the entire movement born, grow, and then fall apart.

When James Strang is mortally wounded by assassins later in the book, it felt matter-of-fact to me. As if, of course that was going to happen. Nothing especially insightful, just a rehearsal of the same story we saw with Joseph Smith in Nauvoo in the early 1840s. As I said, it read like a tawdry sequel.

Fortunately for me, I kept reading. In the chapters following Strang’s death, as his kingdom on Beaver Island in Lake Michigan quickly falls apart, Speek does something very compelling. She spends several chapters detailing the fate of each of Strang’s polygamous widows. The book takes on an increasingly personal feel, with a clear picture of individual human cost. Yet at the same time, through these women’s eyes, and through the perspective of Strang’s children, this splinter sect of Mormonism comes into focus.

Speek presents us with a movement made up of zealots, opportunists, and a great many sincere followers who do all the heavy lifting for the first two groups. She also makes a strong case for polygamy being at best a secondary reason for Strang’s downfall and his movement’s failure. The communal approach, known to the devout as consecration, may have been the fatal civic ingredient. The grievances and atrocities perpetrated against Strangite Mormons receive due attention as well.

For Mormon history enthusiasts wanting to get inside the mind of James Strang, this book may be the wrong choice. Rather than a biography of the man, this is a study of his kingdom overall. Honestly, I don’t feel I know James Strang much better than before I read the book. The Strangite movement, however, has become a moving human affair for me, rather than a footnote to the Brighamite Mormonism I was raised in. Likely the book’s greatest contribution, that is a good reason for reading to the last page.

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The Owl and the Judas

Wheat & Tares

1. Scape-Owl
Today, I saw an owl fly… well, flung
in the midst of heaven,
shock-eyed, wings wrenched back.
Fleeing or expelled from its branch,
wisdom’s icon burst into view,
glaring, tumbling, glaring, tumbling,
till it shuddered, crumpling on
the short grass.
Looking back up the owl’s descent
path, I beheld a vengeful god,
backed by her mother god agape.
I grinned.

judas-nbc-rock-opera2. Rock Opera Judas
Decades prior, in a similar way,
those who didn’t love a show
banned it. Said my mother,
“The brethren said, ‘This
musical is not of God.
Do not watch it.’”
The first time we watched it,
I grinned.
My chubby thighs apostatized,
moshing between the arm rests
of my chair. Onstage,
Judas lashed the heavens
with his rock falsetto,
singing, dancing my dubiety—
religion as a disco ball.
Yet audibly piercing
his thundering metal aria,
my mother sigh-laughed softly.

3. The Fidgety Elect
Sometimes…

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